11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

I am guessing you are here because you have discovered your passion for the wonder that is called Yosemite National Park.  There is little wonder why Yosemite is frequently ranked “The most popular National Park in America”. It is amazing any time of year.   I had been wanting to go to Yosemite for several years but life kept getting in the way.  So I finally made a commitment that I was going this year, no matter what.  For this particular trip, none of my friends or family was available to go so I was going to have to go alone.  So I had to build for myself a list of the the “11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park” so I thought it would be great to share that list with you and help you with your trip.

Michael Frye

Much of this photography adventure is based on research I performed which included the short succinct book, “The Photographer’s Guide To Yosemite” by Michael Frye through Yosemite Conservancy. It is a great book filled with tips and techniques helping you to get the very most out of your photographic journey to this national treasure.  I had no idea who Michael Frye was but when you get to the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite, you see a bunch of Adams prints and then you see a bunch of Michael Frye prints.  I guess you learn something new every day.

Yosemite Valley is Small and Accessible

While Yosemite is a very large park, the valley of the park is a relatively small loop no more than 6 to 10 miles around.  So if you get to spend several days to a week in the park you will get to see many of the classic iconic views several times. This is a great thing because that means you, will probably get to see them in differing weather conditions with different light. That is exactly what happened to me and I encourage you to plan in a similar way.


Map of 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

So with all that in mind, let’s get started with the list, 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park.

11 Rushing Waters on the Merced River

The Merced River, in the central part of the U.S. state of California, is a 145-mile-long tributary of the San Joaquin River flowing from the Sierra Nevada into the San Joaquin Valley. It is most well known for its swift and steep course through the southern part of Yosemite National Park, where it is the primary watercourse flowing through Yosemite Valley. The river’s character changes dramatically once it reaches the plains of the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, where it becomes a slow-moving meandering stream.

Wiki

Rushing Water of the Merced River ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Rushing Water of the Merced River ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

Many classic images from the Yosemite Valley include the Merced River so you have been seeing the iconic Merced without actually knowing it.

10 Ansel Adams Gallery

If you are an Ansel Adams fan, and if you are going to Yosemite National Park, chances are you have been influenced by his work and you will want to see the wonderful collection of images in The Ansel Adams Gallery.

The Ansel Adams Gallery is located in the heart of Yosemite Valley, between the Visitor Center and Post Office, with incredible views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. Yes, we’re fortunate, and the staff includes climbers, photographers, hikers, dog lovers and generally people who love Yosemite.  Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery Website.

9 The Majestic Yosemite Hotel

On one of the very wet rainy days in the park, I was looking for different things to see and places to go.  On the Park Map I found this place, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.  It sounded pretty cool so I had to check it out.

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

The Ahwahnee Hotel is a grand hotel in Yosemite National Park, California, on the floor of Yosemite Valley, constructed from steel, stone, concrete, wood and glass, which opened in 1927. It is a premiere example of National Park Service rustic architecture and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987. The hotel was built by two companies that were merged when the National Park Service began leasing concessions to a single concessionaire in 1925. The Curry Company, owned by David and Jennie Curry and the Yosemite Park Company, the owners of the Yosemite Lodge, became the new “Yosemite Park & Curry Company” headed by Donald Tressider.

The structure originally served as both a luxury hotel and the company offices of YPC&CC. Despite financial struggles, the YPC&CC remained the concessionaire for the Ahwahnee Hotel until 1993, before the National Park Service required a new concessioner to buy the YPC&CC, creating a new company, Delaware North. Delaware North’s contract ended on March 1, 2016 when The National Park Service selected Aramark as the new concessionaire.

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Exterior The Majestic Yosemite Hotel ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

The Ahwahnee was renamed the Majestic Yosemite Hotel on March 1, 2016, due to a legal dispute between the US Government, which owns the property, and the outgoing concessionaire, Delaware North, which claims rights to the trademarked name.

Wiki

8 Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls is viewable throughout much of the park. Whether you are right under it, across the park or up on Tunnel View.  It is viewable in good weather and it bad.

Bridalveil falls ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Bridalveil Falls ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

Bridalveil Falls is one of the most prominent waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley in California, seen yearly by millions of visitors to Yosemite National Park. The waterfall is 617 ft in height and flows year round.

The Ahwahneechee tribe believed that Bridalveil Fall was home to a vengeful spirit named Pohono who guarded the entrance to the valley and that those leaving the valley must not look directly into the waterfall lest they be cursed. They also believed that inhaling the mist of Bridalveil Fall would improve one’s chances of marriage.

Wiki

7 Yosemite Valley Chapel

The Yosemite Valley Chapel caught my attention whenever I was going by. It is like a Christmas Tree to children, a candle to a moth, or fly paper to a fly, I find myself inextricably drawn and I am delighted.  I must say a wintery snowstorm does its magic as well.

Yosemite Valley Chapel ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Yosemite Valley Chapel ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

The History of Yosemite Valley Chapel

Of the structures in public use inYosemite National Park, the Yosemite Valley Chapel is now the oldest. This little New England style church was built under the sponsorship of the California State Sunday School Association, partly by subscriptions from the children, but mainly from the voluntary contributions of prominent members of the Association.
The Chapel was built in 1879 under the auspices of the Yosemite Union Chapel Association. Their stated purpose was: “To erect an undenominational house of worship in the Yosemite Valley”.

They took their inspiration from two Old Testament scripture verses:
Haggai 1:8: “Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD.”

Isaiah 2:2: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” .

6 Upper Yosemite Falls From Swinging Bridge

Upper Yosemite Falls From Swinging Bridge ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Upper Yosemite Falls From Swinging Bridge ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

Swinging Bridge is a popular destination in Yosemite Valley, California, United States, for swimming, with an excellent view of Yosemite Falls. The land in the area resembles that of a beach.

Upper Yosemite Falls From Swinging Bridge ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Upper Yosemite Falls From Swinging Bridge ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

Although official policy does not allow visitors to jump off the bridge, this is sometimes disregarded. The area on both sides of the bridge has mostly shallow water with a few areas of 6 feet to 12 feet in depth.

5 Cathedral Beach

This tip had come from Michael Frye in his book. “This is one of the best sunrise spots in Yosemite Valley, as the eastside of El Capitan catches early sunlight in any month”.

Cathedral Beach Sunrise ~ X Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Cathedral Beach Sunrise ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

If you recall, it had been raining for a day or so as I got to the park. So, I was getting a bit nervous about better conditions for photographing the park.  I check the weather early in the morning before sunrise and it looked like it was going to be a glorious morning.  When I got to the picnic area there was no one there.  I got to spend an hour and a half here all by myself in perfect silence.  It was one of the most glorious experiences I had ever had.  It was moments like this that I was thinking about as I was dreaming about this trip.   And now, my dreams had come true!

4 Cathedral Rock Vistas

The Middle Cathedral Rock is a prominent rock face on the south side of Yosemite Valley, California. El Capitan lies due north of Middle Cathedral. Middle Cathedral’s East Buttress Route is recognized in the historic climbing text Fifty Classic Climbs of North America. – wiki

Cathedral Rock Vistas ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Cathedral Rock Vistas ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

This particular image and view is from the same morning with the amazingly beautiful weather at Cathedral Beach. This image was taken from the El Capitan Bridge.  Note the lovely fresh snow.

3 The Majestic El Capitan

El Capitan (Spanish for The Captain, The Chief) is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, located on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith extends about 3,000 feet from base to summit along its tallest face, and is a popular location for rock climbers and BASE jumpers.

The formation was named “El Capitan” by the Mariposa Battalion when they explored the valley in 1851. El Capitan was taken to be a loose Spanish translation of the local Native American name for the cliff, variously transcribed as “To-to-kon oo-lah” or “To-tock-ah-noo-lah” (Miwok language). It is unclear if the Native American name referred to a specific tribal chief or simply meant “the chief” or “rock chief”.

The Majestic El Capitan ~ X Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
The Majestic El Capitan ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

The top of El Capitan can be reached by hiking out of Yosemite Valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls, then proceeding west. For climbers, the challenge is to climb up the sheer granite face. There are many named climbing routes, all of them arduous, including Iron Hawk and Sea of Dreams, for example. ~ Wiki

El Capitan Meadow View ~ X Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
El Capitan Meadow View ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

El Capitan is viewable throughout much of the park, with stunning views from many different perspectives.  One of my favorites was the relatively close morning view with morning fog drifting past.  The second was a breathtaking from from the El Capitan Meadow.  I stayed for almost an hour taking in this view.

2 The Iconic Valley View

Valley View is a must stop viewpoint in Yosemite National Park. Most people visit Valley View on their way out of the park as it is the last stop, located along the one-way Northside Drive. Look for a small parking area to your left just before Pohono Bridge. There are only about a dozen parking spots, but people come and go so often that finding a spot shouldn’t be a problem.

The second you step out of your car you will see why Valley View has the reputation for being one of the most jaw-dropping viewpoints in all of Yosemite. Although there’s not much ground to explore, walk around to find the best view of the Merced River in the foreground and, in the background, El Capitan to your left and the twin Cathedral Rocks and Spires and Bridalveil Falls to your right. The Outbound

The Iconic Valley View ~ X Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
The Iconic Valley View ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

It had been a very successful morning of hiking and photography. About midday I had gotten pretty worn out, so I was going to sneak back to the hotel for some rest. Even when I am tired, I need to keep  an eye out for interesting views. The scene at Valley View location caught my attention again. I had to stop and shoot this scene. El Capitan was all lit up, there was fresh new snow on the rocks in the river down below. It was a classic fabulous image.

1 Ansel Adams Tunnel View

Classic Ansel Adams Tunnel View

One of the first evenings of the trip I knew I wanted to get back up to Tunnel View. The view was Ansel Adams worthy. I hiked up above Tunnel View, into significant snow cover, to what I think was artist point. I was glad I was not the first person on this trail because it was not marked very well. The higher perspective in deeper snow proved to provide for fantastic photographic opportunities.

Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Classic Ansel Adams Tunnel View ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

While up there, I took the opportunity to capture some images for one of my sponsors, Jordan Winery. I brought a bottle of their amazing 2013 Cab along on the trip to capture at the most beautiful moment. This view was it. Now this evening, I got to open that bottle up and enjoy it with a nice steak dinner.   I know, life is tough, but someone has to do it.

Jordan Winery Cabernet ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Jordan Winery Cabernet ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

Sunset at Tunnel View

Another evening I returned to Tunnel View for sunset or what should have been sunset. It was basically all socked in with heavy snow until, all of a sudden, for about a total of 5 minutes there was a clearing.  You could see Bridal Veil Falls and El Capitan. Someone that was standing next to me had been at the park very frequently and exclaimed this was the most beautiful seen as she had ever seen in the park.  This scene certainly created a unique shot.

Tunnel View Momentary Clearing ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Tunnel View Momentary Clearing ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

Sunrise at Tunnel View

One morning I was up early to try to connect with an Instagram contact, Mark Bouldoukian.  We were going to meet at Tunnel View, so I ran up there at about sunrise. When I got up there I got a note from him that he was somewhere else in the park and would not be coming up.

Tunnel View Sunrise ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park
Tunnel View Sunrise ~ 11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

There was fresh  6 to 8″ of snow everywhere.  Photographers were lined up all along the railing of the main viewing area, so I decided to hike up towards artist point. There was nobody up there except a full time professional photographer Brian Hawkins. It was a pleasure to meet him and we chatted about photography and all kinds of great stuff. He gave me some great tips about how to shoot the park for the rest of the day.  It certainly is wonderful to connect with other great photographers who happen to be friendly and helpful.

Special Thank You

I want to give a very special shout-out to all of the sponsors for this #Yosemite National Park adventure, and I want to encourage you to use their products and services.

AdoramaPix– The best place to print and archive your amazing images.
EZ Air Park – The best place to park when flying out of Minneapolis/St Paul airport.
Hillsound Equipment – Amazing outdoor gear for your fabulous winter adventures.
Hunt’s Photo and Video – The best customer service in the industry for your photo/video gear needs.
Jordan Winery – The best fine wine for your travel adventures.

Thank you!

If you are a real “Road Trip Junky” check out these 3 bucket list road trips to Yosemite.

Conclusion

I had been dreaming about this trip for so long and it has finally become a reality.  I want to encourage you to dream and then put those dreams into action.  If I can do it, you can do it.  It is an amazing park and you will love every moment of it. If you have any questions at all about this trip, please reach out and contact me!

And until next time, get out and capture the adventure!

These images and much more are available for purchase.

Buy Yosemite National Park Prints ~ Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

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11 Best Locations to Photograph Yosemite National Park

 

Written by Wayne Moran - Visit Website
moran.wayne@gmail.com

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